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Controversial Vine City YMCA moves forward, requiring demo of historic school

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Construction of 54,000-square-foot facility is a go, a stone’s throw from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

A two-story brick and glass structure set back on a large lawn.
A rendering of the northern elevation of the new building.
Collins Cooper Carusi via YMCA

The Village People taught the world it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, but construction of the nonprofit’s new Metro Atlanta Headquarters and regional training center hasn’t found universal love.

Plans for the 54,000-square-foot facility in Vine City, just a stone’s throw from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, were unveiled about a year ago. The $24.8-million investment, partially made possible by Invest Atlanta, will be a boon to the neighborhood.

But while the facility’s impact on the neighborhood is not in question, the site plans have drawn some criticism, as the new building will require the almost total demolition of Jordan Hall—formerly part of Morris Brown College, and before that, one of Atlanta’s first African-American schools, Edmund Asa Ware Elementary School.

The school was constructed in the 1920s, actively serving the African-American community in the neighborhood for most of the intervening years. Still, some have argued that its vacant status has been a dead weight on Vine City and other communities, where kids of today could use a boost.

Developers have noted that demolishing the former school, which has no official historical designations, is more cost-effective than renovating.

That mindset drew sharp criticism from ThreadATL earlier this year, which wrote: “In a post-Ponce City Market Atlanta, why is adaptive-reuse of an old, historic building not the default setting on a site like this one, especially with public money involved? It’s some small comfort (very small) that a portion is being saved—but why not the whole thing?”

The new stadium, seen from in front of the building site.
Michael Kahn, Curbed Atlanta

In the past year, plans have moved from incredibly contentious to only semi-contentious, with a redesign netting the preservation of a small segment of the school building.

For champions of local history, the positive impact of the new facility will be bittersweet.

According to a press release, “the Leadership & Learning Center will bring 135 YMCA employees to the Westside, including 25 new jobs and various internship opportunities for Atlanta University Center students interested in various industries.”

With construction slated to begin soon, the building should be completed in early 2019.

The small portion of the old school building, retained at left.
Collins Cooper Carusi via YMCA
Collins Cooper Carusi via YMCA
A two-story brick and glass structure set back on a large lawn. Collins Cooper Carusi via YMCA